Abstract: Sakyapa Ordination Lineages: History, Special Features and Strategies for Survival

by Prof. Dr. David P. Jackson


The Sakya pa school may be unique among Tibetan Buddhist traditions for consciously preserving two distinct monastic ordination lineages. Both lineages were similar in that they were introduced into Tibet from India in the early thirteenth century by the same great Kashmiri abbot, Shakyashribhadra (1140s-1225). But they differed in certain other ways.

Shakyashribhadra is well known in the history of Tibetan Vinaya for his having trained a small group of Tibetan monks in Vinaya practice, thus establishing an important new monk community. This community later divided several times, ultimately resulting in four communities (tshogs pa bzhi). In recent times one was settled in central gTsang and three in southern dBus province. One of the greatest Vinaya abbots in the Sakyapa school, Ngor chen Kon dga’ bzang po (1382?-1456), received full ordination in a lineage passed down through the abbots of one of these four communities.

The second Sakyapa lineage did not pass through these four usual monastic communities. Instead, it was transmitted directly from Shakyashribhadra to Sa skya Pandita (1182-1251), one of the great early founders of their school. It was thus a special and more specifically Sakyapa lineage.

With the passing of generations, several times one tradition threatened to die out, while the other nearly monopolized the whole Sakya monastic tradition.  At that time, a master took it upon himself to revive and spread the endangered tradition. Though I am no expert in Vinaya theory or practice, I will summarize my findings as a historian, presenting, in particular, the strategies used to keep traditions alive.